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9/17/2015
09:06 AM
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Microsoft's Cortana Wants To Play Nice With Salesforce

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sees the company's new Cortana Analytics Suite as a way for Salesforce customers to engage with data. Cortana wasn't quite cooperating onstage at Dreamforce, though.



8 Smart Cities: A Peek At Our Connected Future
8 Smart Cities: A Peek At Our Connected Future
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Microsoft wants its Cortana voice recognition technology to help Salesforce customers question the cloud about their data.

At Dreamforce 2015 in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that the company's Cortana Analytics Suite, announced in July, can be used with Salesforce.com. The cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) combines Microsoft's Cortana voice interface with the company's Power BI technology and machine learning. Used in conjunction with Salesforce and Alpine Metrics, the Cortana Analytics Suite promises a way to improve the management of sales processes through voice-based interaction and visual presentation.

"Conversations are becoming the new platform, the new driver of productivity," said Nadella during his keynote presentation.

Machine learning is one of the underpinnings of the Cortana Analytics Suite. According to Nadella, machine learning can help companies turn data exhaust into business fuel. "In a world of big data, recognizing small patterns becomes the most important thing for an organization and for an individual," said Nadella.

Recognizing words is important too, and Cortana isn't perfect yet.

Nadella demonstrated how Microsoft Power BI could analyze a natural language query, and use Alpine Metrics, a Saleforce.com add-in, to identify the best salesperson for a specific task. It didn't quite work.

"Show me my most at-risk opportunities," Nadella requested, three times, without being understood by Cortana. With an offstage assist, the query was entered and the data was presented using Microsoft's Cortana Analytics Suite.

According to Microsoft, Cortana Analytics Suite enables real-time recommendations, customer churn forecasting, fraud detection, and predictive maintenance, among other use cases.

In a draft blog post provided to InformationWeek by Microsoft, Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of information management and machine learning at Microsoft, explained that sales forecasts have traditionally relied on the instincts of people to identify customers who are ready to buy. Cortana Analytics Suite and Alpine Metrics can provide Saleforce.com users with analysis free of guestimates and personal biases, Sirosh wrote.

For example, Sirosh said the machine learning of Cortana Analytics can enhance the data amassed by Salesforce customers by enabling possibilities such as "opportunity routing" -- assigning a potential business lead to the person most likely to convert the lead into a sale.

(Image: Salesforce)

(Image: Salesforce)

According to Sirosh, Cortana Analytics Suite connects to Salesforce data and combines it with the necessary Web services to answer queries through visualizations that weigh a variety of factors, such as geography, probability, and history, among others.

Cortana Analytics Suite is being used by healthcare provider Dartmouth Hitchcock to create a system that tracks patient health in real-time and supports proactive responses to health issues raised by healthcare devices. It's also being used by Rockwell Automation to predict when equipment needs maintenance.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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